"As the train hurtled onward," Gleick writes, "its passengers sometimes felt the pace foreshortening their sense of their own history. Moore's law had looked simple on paper, but its consequences left people struggling to find metaphors with which to understand their experience." (395) A little further on he himself struggles with the experience of the Internet: "The network has a structure, and that structure stands upon a paradox. Everything is close, and everything is far, at the same time. This is why cyberspace can feel not just crowded but lonely. You can drop a stone in a well and never hear a splash." (425)
Not everyone agrees with Gleick that the Internet is ordered. Steven Johnson, writing of order in Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, points out: “The portals and the search engines exist in the first place because the Web is a tremendously disorganized space, a system where the disorder grows right alongside the overall volume." It is, he concludes, a phenomenon incapable of generating its own structure. The sheer barbarity and utter senselessness of the Internet as a whole may well contribute, I believe, to our fundamental alienation from it. Taken as a whole, it is far too chaotic an experience to comprehend.
That fundamental loneliness, that emptiness and confusion, Gleick himself may have best expressed in the metaphor of the cloud—the evanescent, impalpable, invisible network that "looms over us . . not quite tangible but awfully real; amorphous, spectral hovering nearby yet not situated in any one place." (395-6)
And that is the nature of the digital experience: it eludes us even as it overwhelms us. In the end, we are alone in the endless sea of countless nodes, myriad connections, and, oh yes, the information.